By Antonia ZerbisiasToronto Star
June 12, 2003
Hawks Turned Media into Parrots Antonia Zerbisias, Toronto Star Turns out that CNN was the Pentagon's Bitch after all. That was my rather unladylike phrase for AOL Time Warner's news network throughout the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. CNN hewed closely to the Pentagon party line, giving us that endless military parade of gung-ho retired generals â€” former NATO commander Wesley Clark was a notable exception â€” while letting loose a flock of squawking hawks, including Defence Policy Board member Richard Perle; Dr. Doom himself, Henry Kissinger; and right-wing think tank commander, William Kristol.
No wonder that, just after he won the best documentary Oscar for his anti-violence Bowling For Columbine, Michael Moore, during an interview with Aaron Brown said: "Thanks for letting me be the first non-general on here for the last few days.'' But, in fairness to America's "most trusted'' news source, my indelicate term can also be applied to ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Fox's Special Report with Brit Hume and, yes, even unto PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. At least that's how I interpret a study conducted March 20 to April 9, the first three weeks of the war, by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting ( FAIR).
Released last week, the FAIR study reports that "official voices" â€” U.S. government and military, past and present â€” dominated TV newscasts, "squelching dissent'' and crowding out alternative viewpoints, including foreign perspectives. American television viewers "were more than six times as likely to see a pro-war source as one who was anti-war; with U.S. guests alone, the ratio increases to 25 to 1,'' the study's authors, Steve Rendell and Tara Broughel, report in the May/June edition of FAIR's magazine Extra!
They looked at 1,617 talking heads and other on-camera sources, coding them by name, occupation, nationality, position on the war and the network on which they appeared. (In CNN's case, they targeted Wolf Blitzer Reports.) Turns out that, not only did Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld take over Iraq for the U.S., he also scored a clear victory over the media.
Indeed, military types got twice as much face time as civilians did. They were reinforced by the Pentagon's slickest marketing move of all time, the embedding of hundreds of journalists with the troops.
Obviously, the anti-war brigade didn't get much attention, even if its members were with the government or military. FAIR found a mere 3 per cent of U.S. sources "represented or expressed opposition to the war,'' and that includes senators and members of Congress. "With more than 1 in 4 U.S. citizens opposing the war and much higher rates of opposition in most countries where opinion was polled, none of the networks offered anything resembling proportionate coverage of anti-war voices,'' FAIR reports.
"The anti-war percentages ranged from 4 per cent at NBC, 3 per cent at CNN, ABC, PBS and FOX, and less than 1 per cent â€” 1 out of 205 U.S. sources â€” at CBS.'' It gets worse: Anti-war voices were "almost universally'' blown off in one-sentence sound bites while 42 per cent of them were never identified by name, labelled instead as "protester'' or "anti-war activist."
As for the Iraqis themselves, well, the media sandbagged them at the same time that they were being bombed by the invading forces. Two-thirds of them interviewed were in "streeters,'' with "typical comments" consisting of the insightful "God damn to bloody hell Saddam" and the equally trenchant "They can go. U.S.A. go."
So, not only did the White House and the Pentagon manage to march voters unto war with their false ad campaign of how they knew "for a fact'' about weapons of mass deception, they ensured that, with Big Media's full co-operation, the message was managed throughout the bloodletting. Last week Big Media got its reward: A loosening of the rules that keep them from growing bigger and richer.
Yesterday, the Commons' Heritage Committee released its report on the future of Canadian broadcasting. It recommended that foreign ownership restrictions on media companies be maintained. That means we are probably not about to see an even greater occupation of our airwaves by American voices.
Looks like Canada's airwaves are not about to "liberated'' by AOL Time Warner nor by News Corp., which owns Fox, nor by General Electric, which owns NBC. There will be no bending over for the Pentagon on our screens.
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